February 21st was observed by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as International Mother Language Day. This event which started in 1999 recognizes that multilingualism can propel inclusion and aid the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is a means to encourage Multilingual Education.
About 40% of the world’s population who have formal education, have it in a language they do not speak or understand. Efforts are being made at addressing this as multilingual education. Its growing understanding is largely appreciated, particularly in early schooling, and even more in improving public life.
International Mother Language Day which underscore this effort, recognizes that Language and multilingualism can advance inclusion and aid the objective of the SDGs on education. UNESCO therefore encourages and promotes multilingual education based on mother tongue or first language.
In doing so, learners will be afforded the opportunity to learn in a more “convenient language”. For those learners whose mother tongue is different from the language of instruction, a multilingual education system will enable them to bridge the gap between home and school. This ensures a better learning process for everyone involved.
Multilingualism contributes to the development of inclusive societies that allow multiple cultures, worldviews and knowledge systems to coexist amicably. Today, there is a growing awareness that language
plays a vital role in development, enhancing cultural diversity and fostering intellectual dialogue.
It is used as a tool in building inclusive knowledge societies and preserving cultural heritage, as well as in mobilizing the political will for applying the benefits of science and technology to sustainable development.
The theme of the 2023 international Mother Language Day, “Multilingual education- a necessity to transform education” places emphasis on indigenous people’s education and languages. Multilingual education based on Mother-tongue facilitates inclusion in learning for groups who do not speak the dominant language of a particular region.
Language, with its complexities in communication, education and social integration is important for people globally. Yet the globalisation process is proving increasingly a threat to many languages as they are disappearing.
When Language fades away, the rich history, cultural identity and traditions of such a people equally fade away. Every fortnight, a language disappears taking with it an entire intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered according to UNESCO.
Only a few hundred have genuine education systems and are in the public domain. However, less than a hundred are used in the digital world. Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages, which transmit and preserve traditional history and culture in a sustainable way.
Hence, International Mother Language Day is observed every year to promote linguistic and cultural diversity as well as multilingualism.